Monday, January 09, 2006

Z, Midaq Alley and Central Station

Z (1969 movie directed by Costa-Gavras): Rating 9.5/10

I tried reading the book by Vassili Vassilikos but I soon got tired. I was sure there was a wicked story buried in there but I didn’t make it past the initial pages. Instead I opted for the movie and I am glad I did. This is one of the best movies I have seen! Along with the Battle of Algiers , this is one of my favourite movies. And interestingly enough, like that movie, this one is in French and shot in Algiers as well. This is an excellent political movie which shows how quickly freedom can evaporate and how abuse of power can cripple the truth. A political leader is hit on the head and eventually dies. But proving his death was a murder turns out to be quite an ordeal. The movie moves at a quick pace and the footage is shot in a very realistic way, with nothing flashy or glossy. And in the end, despite all the truth being exposed, nothing is done. The lies continue and more lies are spun until the truth never seemed to exist in the first place. Sounds quite familiar to modern times! And if a movie can remain timeless, well that is just perfect.

Midaq Alley (1995 movie directed by Jorge Fons): Rating 6.5/10

It was never a good idea to watch a movie right after I finished watching Z because any movie would have been a let-down. And sure enough, Midaq Alley was a huge disappointment. The only reason I picked up this movie was because I wanted to see how Naguib Mahfouz’s book was adapted from Cairo to Mexico City. The story was generic enough that it would have been easy to adapt but I still wanted to see how it turned out. This movie was made quite a few years before Amores Perros and contains the same structure – one incident is shown, one story thread is followed, then the movie rewinds to that initial incident and follows another character’s thread. However, Amores Perros was brilliant and engaging, it focused on three central stories. Whereas Midaq Alley diverges too much from the original characters shown in the first scene and after a lengthy running time of 140 minutes, tries to tie everything together. By that point, I had lost interest. It contains decent acting (Salma Hayek is the only major star on the cover) and shot nicely.

Central Station (1998 movie directed by Walter Salles): Rating 7/10

Road movies are tricky, either you like them or you don’t. In a year where my favourite movie was a Brazilian road movie, Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures , I wanted to see how what I thought of this highly praised Salles movie. I knew the movie would be well shot because Walter Carvalho was the cinematographer. And sure enough, it is a visual delight. The technical aspects are all top notch (smooth editing) and the acting is very good. But I was not floored by this one. This one is much better than Salles’s Behind the Sun which I gave a higher rating because I actually cared for that movie. If one gets hooked emotionally by Central Station then one will love it. At the start of the movie, the credits mention that the movie is based on an idea by Walter Salles. As soon as I saw the letter writer character, my first instinct was that Salles got the idea from Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay where Irfan Khan plays a letter writer who takes money from people but never sends their letters. It was a minor character so I figured Salles expanded on that. Ofcourse, he adds a real story and more depth to a cheating letter writer’s character. Maybe if I had seen this some other day, I might have liked it a bit more.

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